Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Ringing Hollow

There's been a great deal of discussion this week about last Friday's massacre in Connecticut, as there should be. For the more ethical media organizations - including ours - the discussion thankfully hasn't been just the stereotypical pro-gun/anti-gun fight that leads nowhere.

We began by breaking down the five basic parts of our national gun violence problem on Monday, and we've seen others in the media focusing on some of those same five points. We also tackled the poverty and inequality piece of the gun violence problem on Tuesday, since it's the subject that will receive the least amount of attention, while being the key factor in most of the gun violence problems that don't make national news.

Today, we're taking on the one piece of the puzzle corporate America doesn't want us - or anyone - to talk about: America's broken lobbying and political finance laws.

We all know the truth about the relationship between politics and money in America right now. When the biggest lobbying organizations yank their proverbial leash, Congresspersons of every political party come to heel like well-trained dogs.

This isn't a new thing.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, the gun lobby prevented President Johnson from passing more effective gun safety laws as far back as the aftermath of the John F. Kennedy assination. Even when the families of the victims of Columbine and Virginia Tech banded together in 2010, they couldn't get the gun show loophole closed.

Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the deaths of 20 children in Connecticut, and the surprisingly fast movement towards new gun safety legislation that both the White House and Congress are already making, we have to admit the reality, that it's doubtful any comprehensive gun safety legislation will ever be passed.

That doesn't mean there aren't other ways to force the gun lobby to roll over and learn who the masters really are.

As they've done in tackling poverty and inequality, teachers also led the way on the fight against the gun lobby on this week, as the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS) decided to yank the $751.4 million chain they have on Wall Street private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.

For several years, Cerberus has been the owner of Bushmaster, the company responsible for making the most popular assault weapon in America. On Tuesday, at 1 AM, Cerberus made a sudden announcement, saying they would immediately be selling their majority stake in Freedom Group, the umbrella weapons manufacturing group that includes Bushmaster, due to the threat of CalSTRS to take their investments elsewhere.

Cerberus wasn't the only business on Tuesday ditching some of their attachment to weapons that aren't necessary for hunting. The Dick's Sporting Goods chain announced Tuesday they were immediately pulling "modern sporting rifles" - semi-automatic weapons that can sometimes be classified as 'assault weapons' - from every one of their stores, including online, at least temporarily.

All Americans can and should do the the same thing with our campaign donations the next time an election rolls around, by giving only to those candidates who come out in favor of sensible, effective gun safety laws.

If the only kind of speech the lobbying organizations are going to allow is money, then we need to make sure the American people are the masters.

Right now, that's simply not the case.

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